As every school child ought to know but probably does not, only one of this country's Prime Ministers was assassinated and that was Spencer Perceval. This blog will have more on him on May 11, the 200th anniversary of his death but in the meantime, we have great pleasure in advertising an event.

Dr Caroline Shenton, (Clerk of the Records, Parliamentary Archives) will be giving a talk about Spencer Perceval on May 11 at 1 o'clock. It will take place in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House (that's that newish one with the fig trees in the atrium). Entrance, for those who do not know, is on the Embankment.

There is no need to register and anyone can turn up for the talk. Do, please allow time for the security check.

ADDENDUM: London Historians site lists other events at All Souls, Ealing, that will be commemorating Spencer Perceval's assassination.

Harvey Klehr is one of  the undoubted experts on matters to do with Communist infiltration, espionage and agents of influence in the United States and has fought the good fight with many in the media and academia who still insist that a.) Alger Hiss was not a Soviet spy because b.) he has always said he was not and c.) if by some chance it may be remotely true that he passed on some insignificant amount of information to a deeply unpleasant hostile regime then he was fully justified to do so because d.) there was McCarthyism and whatever else before that.

A few days ago, Professor Klehr reviewed, mostly positively, another book on the case in the Wall Street Journal.

There really is nothing new to say about Alger Hiss's guilt, which has been proven beyond any doubt over and over again. There might be when the archives of the former Soviet military intelligence, the GRU are opened, which will happen very soon after the devils build their own ice skating rink.

What is of interest is the refusal by so many of the media and academia to accept this evidence, a refusal that amounts to a collective pathological state.

To Ms. Shelton, the Hiss case excites intense emotion because it was a battle between "collectivism and individualism, between central planning and local/state authority, and between rule by administrative fiat and free markets." Perhaps it was, but she is wrong to take a perjurer at his word when she accepts Hiss's claim that he was a loyal New Dealer. (He said that he was the victim of a conservative cabal intent on dismantling the welfare state). In fact, most of the young lawyers and economists who joined communist cells in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1930s were disappointed with the New Deal and with President Roosevelt, believing that his reforms did not go far enough.
At least one of the commenters points out that if these people ever acknowledged Hiss's guilt and stopped justifying the behaviour of others, they would have to re-think everything and rehabilitate, if not Joe McCarthy whose efforts were of questionable value, then a young Congressman of the time, Richard Nixon. Without him there would have been no Hiss case and a great deal would not have been discovered.

What better way of celebrating St George's Day as well as Shakespeare Day than by posting Laurence Olivier's rendering of Henry V's speech outside Harfleur.

Some time ago there was a review on this site of Alistair Cooke's (now Lord Lexden) excellent book on the Primrose League, the country's first and largest popular political movement. (Those who point to the Chartists ignore the fact that these had no time for women members.)

Today is the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield, whose favourite flower the primrose was alleged to be and in whose honour both Primrose Day and the Primrose League were established.

The National Trust maintains the tradition of celebrating Primrose Day at Hughenden though the advertised event does not sound as inspiring as the old League events were but TH does not think that the laying of primroses at the Disraeli statue in Parliament Square happens any more. Admittedly, the weather today is not conducive to outdoor celebrations but rain is not unknown in London in April. Perhaps the Conservative Party should consider reviving both the League and the laying of primroses at the great Prime Minister's feet.

To inspire them, here is the Pathe newsreel of Primrose Day in London in 1916.


J. C. Masterman's claims to fame are various. He was an academic and a noted amateur sportsman; he was also the chairman of the Twenty Committee during the Second World War, in charge of double cross and turning of enemy agents. Typically of the sort of people who ran intelligence and counter-intelligence, mostly very successfully, the name Twenty Committee came from the Roman double cross: XX.
After the war Masterman, sensibly, thought that the world should know about the committee's achievements but came up against the British official obsession with secrecy: both Roger Hollis, head of MI5 and Alec Douglas-Home, Prime Minister, opposed publication. In 1945 The Double Cross System in the War of 1939 - 1945 was published privately and in 1970 in the United States by Yale University Press. For a time there was talk of legal action against the author but eventually common sense prevailed and the book came out in Britain in 1972. Even then nothing was said about Britain's most successful "weapon", ULTRA, information about which was not made public till 1974.

There is still one more achievement that Masterman could boast of. He was a writer of detective stories (and other fiction). In particular, he wrote the first of the Oxford college mysteries that subsequently became important with, among others, Michael Innes, Edmund Crispin and Dorothy L. Sayers. This was An Oxford Tragedy, published in 1933, in which the strange goings on at St Thomas's College are solved by a visiting Austrian criminologist, Ernst Brendel.

Masterman did not write another detective story for more than twenty years, The Case of the Four Friends coming out in 1956. Again Brendel is the hero, though this time he is also the narrator. There are some indications that in the intervening years he had gone through some highly unpleasant experiences but not much is made of that. Brendel tells the story of four people who can be called friends but are not exactly who arrive at a hotel to celebrate new year and to play golf. Each of them is a potential murderer and a potential victim and the story is one of pre-detection with Brendel claiming to have prevented (possibly) all four murders though as one of his Oxford friends says subsequently, there could have been another solution as well.

At the end of the novel there is an Introduction. As these are always written after the rest of the book, explains the author, it is reasonable that this one should be put in its rightful place. In it the author finds himself in court prosecuting himself for not writing a proper detective story and also defending himself. It is the defence that is particularly interesting:
My only difficulty is that I want to repudiate all the accusations at the same time. That doesn't matter; I am in the middle of my speech without any realization of how I began. 
'You say that the story should be told directly, but that, I assure you, would not add any sense of actuality. I have never seen a murdered corpse, and I could not describe one in a manner which would make a reader believe that I had. On the other hand, I have often enough sat late in Common Room discussion crimes, and have advanced theories about disputed cases in courts of law. To me, then, the conversations in Common Room are much more real than any direct story would be. 
And I would go further. A detailed realism is no necessary part of a detective story, for the detective story, for the detective story follows highly artificial but well-established conventions. How often is a cursory and unnecessary concession made to the belief that the story should be made realistic without any influence on the reader's mind at all! Usually at the sight of the corpse one of the characters vomits, or alternatively another remarks, "I did not know there could be so much blood in a human body." But that is all, and the reader hurries on to the rest of the story without pausing to let the horrid spectacle of the corpse sink into his mind. 
Reality has little to do with detective fiction. At most there is only a sort of pseudo-realism. 
Julian Symons: eat your heart out.

What could be more conservative in the true sense of the word that does not imply any idea of class, let alone class warfare, than gardening? Whether we mean a large garden in the country, a suburban square behind the house, a small town garden, just a balcony in a block of flats, mucking about with soil, plants, bulbs, seeds, cuttings or bushes is being part of a long tradition. Even new or newish, radical or supposedly radical ideas of change in gardens remains within that tradition of creating and growing.

Tory Historian has just read a delightful little history of gardening and gardens in England (not really any other part of the country) by Anne Scott-James, illustrated by her husband, Osbert Lancaster (he of the pocket cartoons and the Littlehampton family), entitled The Pleasure Garden.

From the British Roman estate that so resembled those of villas in Italy itself through gardens that were and are monastic or Tudor, in the grand French or the enclosed Dutch manner, romantic or formal, suburban or railway all the way to the patio of the seventies the chapters are witty and knowledgeable and the drawings are a joy to study.

It so happens that Tory Historian was today in Russell Square that figures in the chapter called The London Square. A familiar square suddenly looked very different.

Book Review: Philip Ziegler, Edward Heath – The Authorised Biography, London: Harper Collins, 2010 (£25)

Dr Harshan Kumarasingham, the Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Potsdam and a past contributor to the Conservative History Journal, gives his views on Edward Heath and Philip Ziegler’s biography.

Edward Heath did not emerge, but was elected as leader of the Conservative Party in 1965.  The new leader was young, experienced, and progressive with strong contacts with the Parliamentary Party after an effective tenure as Chief Whip.  Heath the Grammar school scholarship boy personified a professional image that was accurately and purposefully non-patrician.  This was the man the party hoped could beat Harold Wilson at his own game sharing a greater commonality and image with the electorate than any previous Conservative leader.  Heath could project a ‘modern’ image of someone who had risen through the ranks through ability not nobility.  However, expectations of a new age under a new style of leader were not unanimously idealistic.  Heath carried significant pressures as the new leader of a new era.  The Economist reported at the time of his ascendance as leader a sense of Conservative realism: ‘Mr Heath certainly carries radical hopes in his baggage.  But in electing him, the Tories have primarily shown their instinct for power.  They picked, by a narrow majority, the man they reckoned most likely to bullock their way back into power.  They will remain united behind him just as long as his pursuit of power looks promising.’  The Shadow Cabinet under Heath’s clear leadership had created a prepared and much publicised programme at Selsdon for when it returned to power, which seemed to deliver the progressive hopes envisioned by ‘Rab’ Butler and Lord Woolton when the Party recovered after the war.  This agenda of change promised a constructive programme, after the image of policy sterility of the last years of the Macmillan-Home Governments, to deal with Britain’s economic and domestic issues.  Against the odds Heath reclaimed the Treasury benches for the Conservatives in 1970 with a genuine gusto for reform and modernisation. As the biographer of the great and the good Philip Ziegler ably demonstrates he had the Tory party with him when he won because he at the time seemed the most ‘promising’ to deliver the objective of power.  Almost as soon as he achieved this, however, things began to go awry.

The rest of the review is here

I am trying to create some order among my various collections of books, particularly those that come into the category of detective fiction. After a couple of days of intermittent work I have managed to put in order all the A to C ones though I keep finding ones that were hidden in piles on the stairs. On the whole I did very little re-reading in the process but have emerged with the certain knowledge that I need to go through Edmund Crispin's novels again. (I did re-read the two collections of short stories but that did not take long).

I started with the first one, The Case of the Gilded Fly, published in 1944 when Crispin (real name Bruce Montgomery) was still an undergraduate at Oxford. It is not as good as some of the subsequent ones and I had to go back several times to work out what happened on which day. There is also a longish phony ghost story that is only marginally relevant to the plot and could have been condensed into a paragraph or two.

Professor Gervase Fen is in his element - the college, various pubs and the theatre where a new and brilliant play is being produced. He also has a family. Mrs Fen appears quite a lot (something I had forgotten) and the children appear once. There is even a cat. In subsequent novels Mrs Fen is referred to and the children are mentioned though the cat makes no further appearance. Mrs Fen is actually rather entertaining and provides a pleasant antidote to some of the donnish mannerisms. It is a pity Crispin decided not to have her around much later on, not even in the Oxford novels, which most of them are not.

However, my attention was taken up by something else. An important part of the plot is that two characters listen to the radio on the evening when the murder is committed and the music is rather loud. Apparently, what they listen to is the Meistersinger overture and Ein Heldenleben. Well, what is wrong with that, I hear my readers ask. Nothing except that the events of the book take place during a week in October 1940, that is the height of the Blitz. Did the BBC Third Programme really play German music during this period and not just any old German music but Wagner and Richard Strauss? It seems incredible but Bruce Montgomery was a musician and composer as well as a writer of detective stories and one would expect him to know such things.

Staying off the internet has its good and bad signs. Not sure where forgetting this anniversary fits. Thirty years ago yesterday Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, announces the invasion in the House of Commons.

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